At 75 World Business Traveler Still Learning While Volunteering in Uganda
"I have lived or worked or traveled through 32 different countries," Kornstad said. At age 75, he’s still not ready to pull up a rocking chair.
George Kornstad travels the world to feed others.
The Superior native, who grew up near what is now Carl Gullo Park, spent four decades in the grain industry. He started his career in 1966 writing dump truck tickets at the former Continental Grain, now Peavey.
Kornstad worked his way up to designing, building and operating grain elevators. The job took him from Superior to Milwaukee, Iowa, Russia and Egypt before he retired. And it’s continued to take him around the world ever since.
“I have lived or worked or traveled through 32 different countries,” Kornstad said. At age 75, he’s still not ready to pull up a rocking chair. This January Kornstad, who lives on Lake Beauregard in the town of Highland, flew to Uganda as part of the CNFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer program. In areas of Uganda, he said, some farmers lose 60 to 70 percent of their crops.
“I have 42 years of experience in grain operations,” he said. “Why not share it? If I can help them, I do.”
In January and February, he worked with members of the Pukanyi United Farmers Co-op in Uganda, teaching them grain storage techniques. Along the way, he took photos of wildlife most people only see in zoos, got a lesson in stripping corn off the cob, tasted jackfruit, played a round of golf and sat white-knuckled as he was driven through the busy streets of Kampala.
Although Kornstad was the volunteer sharing his knowledge, he learned a lot about the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the Ugandan people.
“The people were delightful,” he said. One of his pictures shows how a family rigged up a solar panel to charge their cell phones and batteries. Another farmer had no electricity or running water, but she had developed a way to turn cow manure into methane gas for cooking and light. Corn cribs came in all styles and sizes depending on the material available — modern metal ones, cribs made of bamboo, reeds or wood, even circular ones.
Most of the farmers in the cooperative had no running water or electricity. Some used just single moleboard plows to plant crops. Kornstad taught them how to use the co-op’s battery-operated moisture meter to gauge when corn should be stripped from the cob. He showed them how to store the bags of corn on separate pallets to provide good air circulation and room for testing. And he taught them how to use a sieve, on loan from the Wisconsin Grain Commission, to check the quality of the bagged corn.
The people he met on his trip, Kornstad said, were “lovely, pleasant, quiet and accommodating.” As he shared with them, they shared with him — stories, music, smiles and skills.
“I was teaching them how to make a sieve,” he said. “They were teaching me how to make baskets.”
Part of the fun of the trip was seeing the wildlife. The Highland man got a bars-free view of storks, impalas, pronghorn antelope, elephants, dik-dik, monkeys and the most dangerous animal in Uganda, the water buffalo. Some of his favorite photos show the Superior native near a group of giraffes.
Before flying to a new country, Kornstad has to take a battery of shots. The worst immunization to date, he said, was the one for yellow fever. Luckily, most of the immunizations are good for life. He has volunteered in Afghanistan, Taiwan, Bulgaria, Kenya and Uganda.
“Whenever they call, if it fits, I go,” Kornstad said. “Personally, it’s such a simple thing that they can end up really minimizing their losses if they do the proper storage techniques.”
But the trip that is closest to his heart was one he made to Russia for work.
“It’s a vast, vast place,” Kornstad said. And it’s where he met his wife, Tatiana.
The goals of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, funded through the U.S. Farm Bill, are both humanitarian and cultural. While volunteers help generate sustained economic growth in the world agricultural sector, they increase the American public’s understanding of international issues and promote international understanding of the U.S. Volunteers also get back as much as they give.
“Any time you can help someone improve their lives … that gives me a great deal of satisfaction, to be able to help them,” Kornstad said.
A variety of volunteers from all types of agricultural backgrounds are needed for the program. Volunteer trips usually last between 20-40 days. CNFA pays all travel expenses, but volunteers receive no salary or stipend. For more information on the program, look up the CNFA website at www.cnfa.org/ and click the Farmer-to-Farmer tab.
Kornstad is already looking into a Farmer-to-Farmer trip to Ukraine.
“I don’t see any reason to stop,” he said. “I’m only 75.”
By Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram